Paul Greenberg

With apologies to Don Draper

Tie knotted, hair combed, middle button on blazer buttoned. Check. Briefcase in hand, wallet in breast pocket, car keys in hand. Check. Then out through the revolving door and into the fading light, a face prepared to meet the other faces.

It would take a little longer for the practiced smile to fade after that presentation to the investors today. At least he hoped they were investors, not just lookers. He'd put a lot of work into that smile -- confident and friendly, but not cocky or familiar. Moderation in all things, that was the ticket.

The firm was counting on getting this project. Lord knows it needed the business. He figured he'd done all right. Once you'd learned to fake sincerity, a classmate once told him, you had it made. He wondered what ever happened to old Tubby. No doubt he'd done well. He wasn't doing all that bad himself -- if he didn't think too much about it. Introspection is bad for the digestion. He reached for the package of Tums he always carried now.

He was already so tired of this dumb century, and it had only started. Not that he missed the last one, God knows. War and revolution, Depression and disaster. Full of sound and fury. It did have drama. He'd say that much for it. There had been some real choices: Good vs. Evil. Life vs. Death. Art Deco vs. International.

This century seemed out to muddy all distinctions. Deconstruct everything in sight. Till it all was just one meaningless smear. Or one parody of reality after another. The trouble with shock value as a staple is that it soon loses its shock value. If everything is acceptable, nothing matters. Why should it? In the ever-bright future, we're all going to be the same anyway -- happy as clams, and about as mindful.

Is there anything sadder than that yellowing light at the end of a day spent faking it? Well, at least the clients seemed pleased with the two designs. They could take their choice of the same emptiness in two entirely different packages. He was kind of proud of that day's work. He thought of himself as a magician, able to convert a client's dreams into prefab reality, visions of country estates into suburban sprawl.

Each of his designs looked, if only looked, unique -- carefully crafted, the product of painstaking months finished just on deadline, as if they were mod masterpieces. He'd unveiled both with that little twist of his wrist he'd practiced in front of the mirror for a week. He still had his backhand even if he'd given up tennis years ago.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.